"Respectability and Escape: Unrealized Potential in The Dead"

In the Irish Catholic Society portrayed by James Joyce in Dubliners, the characters live in a world guided by "respectability", yet some are driven by the urge to escape. Joyce illustrates the reputable populace as false and undesirable, and depicts his protagonists as the few who recognize and attempt to seize opposing views. Nevertheless, in his somewhat pessimistic approach, Joyce concludes each tale with an inevitable resort to the world the characters had wished to escape. Most exemplary of this is "The Dead", the longest and most multifaceted of all the stories as it could arguably be a culmination of each previous narration. The lone story in the collection with a distinguished ending, "The Dead" confirms that any attempt at escape will be ultimately thwarted at the expense of "respectability," as his final character, Gabriel Conroy, attempts to abscond, but to no avail.

Joyce inserts subtle language of escape throughout the story. When Gabriel Conroy is first introduced, he takes off his goloshes to reveal patent leather shoes. (p.202) This is notable for its reference to both the aspect of escape and the aspect of respectability. Gabriel's patent leather shoes (shoes are a...

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